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treating any public or social question. They published no treatise upon the infamous domestic code of Rome, by which the father had the power of life and death over the son, and the husband power to inflict corporeal punishment upon the wife, and even death itself. They published no treatise against the cruel and depraving spectacles of the gladiatorial arena. Does Christianity therefore sanction the act of Titus in giving two thousand Jews to the wild beasts at Beyrout, or approve a modern Spanish bull-fight? The collective epistles of the New Testament were originally separate manuscript letters to little companies of obscure believers, here and there, in the Roman empire. They could be multiplied only by hand, and there was no way in which they could be brought to bear upon public sentiment, except through the enlightened and rectified sentiment of these believers. But through these, the apostles attack slavery in the concrete so as utterly to forbid chattelism in the church of Christ. In that church the law of equality is asserted throughout the New Testament: “One is your master, even Christ, and all ye are brethren.” Let me here repeat a course of argument published years ago, and still unanswered : Christians were a peculiar people. They formed a spiritual society apart from the world, and were fellowcitizens of that commonwealth. In this relation they ceased to be under the Roman law as their source of right or rule of action. Hence the relation of master and servant was at once listed out of the plane of the civil law into the higher plane of Christian love. The outward relation constituted by law might not cease; it might not be possible always or at once legally to termi
nate this; but chattelism, which is the essence of slavery, was abolished by the fundamental law of Christianity. See how the gospel transforms this Roman chattel into a Christian man: “Masters, render to your servants that which is just and equal.” Treat them as your equals in all the essential rights of men—as husbands, as fathers, as laborers worthy of their hire, as rational and immortal souls, give to them EQUALITY.” These words are the death-blow of Roman chattel-slavery. They are good where slavery does not exist—for every relation of master and servant; but they abolish slavery at a stroke. This command is enforced by a solemn reference to the judgment—“knowing that both your and their Master is in heaven; neither is there respect of persons with Him.” And, on the other hand, the servant made free by the gospel is not to plume himself on that, nor to set himself upon his dignity; but to be voluntarily humble and faithful in his position, not quitting a master because that master is declared to be his equal. “They that have believing masters, let them not despise them because they
* Rev. Dr. Hodge, of Princeton, whose learning and orthodoxy none will dispute, and whom none will accuse of “abolitionism,” thus comments on this passage in his work on Ephesians:
“Give to your servants that which is just and equal. That is, act towards them on the principles of justice and equality. Justice requires that all their rights as men, as husbands, and as parents, should be regarded. And these rights are not to be determined by the civil law, but by the law of God. “As the law,’ says Calvin, ‘gave great license to masters, many assumed that everything was lawful which the civil statute allowed; and such was their severity that the Roman emperors were obliged to restrain their tyranny. But although no edicts of princes interposed in behalf of the slave, God concedes nothing to the master beyond what the law of love allows.’ Paul requires for slaves not only what is strictly just, but tov loétmra. What is that? Literally, it is equality. This is not only its signification, but its meaning. Slaves are to be treated by their masters on the principles of equality. Not that they are to be equal with their masters in authority or station, or circumstances; but they are to be treated as having, as men, as husbands, and as parents, EQUAL RIGHTs witH THEIR MASTERs. It is just as great a sin to deprive a slave of the just recompense for his labor, or to keep him in ignorance, or to take him from his wife or child, as it is to act thus towards a free man. This is the equality which the law of God demands, and on this principle the final judgment is to be administered.”
are brethren.” How could a chattel despise its owner * How does that caution sound in the ears of modern slaveholders ? What Southern church would tolerate such an exhortation to its slaves? Hear the decree of the Apostle Paul for the abolition
of slavery : As many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. You are all alike cowered with Christ's righteousness and radiant with his glory. Each and every one of you is Christ. And now shall the Christ here oppress and injure the Christ there? Shall one soul made bright with the glory of Christ, soil and trample under foot that glory in another? Nay, ye have each and all put off self and put on Christ;there is neither Jew nor Greek—there are no favorites in this spiritual commonwealth; there is neither bond nor free—no distinctions of caste are here allowed ; there is neither male nor female—no tyranny of the stronger sex over the weaker; there are no privileged persons or classes whatever in this kingdom, for ye are all ONE in Christ Jesus. Christianity was a kingdom within a kingdom. Penetrating through all forms of government and of society, it gave its law directly to the soul; and then, working from the individual outward, it leavened and renovated society and its institutions. It did not work by social revolution as a means to an end, but produced social revolution as a necessary consequence of its transformation of the individual. But it is a great fallacy to suppose that because the result to be effected by Christianity was gradual and remote, therefore the principle tending to that result was left to a gradual development. The principle which should regulate society, and which in time would reform society in the mass, was laid down at the outset as the supreme law for the individual. Because the process of social transformation must needs be slow, the necessity for that transformation and the principles by which it must be effected, were not left to be gradually discovered in the future. No individual was suffered to hide himself under the shadow of society; to plead that an evil or abuse with which he was implicated was a social evil that time must cure, and to take advantage of the delay in reforming society, to indulge a little longer his own complicity with the wrong. No ; the law that was to permeate and revolutionize Society was given as a law to the individual believer, the moment he entered the kingdom of God. He could not cross the threshold of that kingdom until he bowed his will to the supremacy of that law.” In political affairs, the Christian of Nero's time had no voice nor influence ; no right of suffrage, nor legislative power. He could not therefore do anything politically for the abolition of slavery. Moreover, at the beginning of the Christian era, the manumission of slaves, hitherto permitted by Roman law and custom, was greatly restricted by the Lew AFlia Sentia and the Lew Fusia Caninia. But the law of Christ's kingdom forbade one to hold as chattels men whom Christ himself had created, and had redeemed with his own precious blood. To sum up the argument from the New Testament, “the Holy Scriptures lay down as absolute principles, the equality of men before God, the lawfulness of wages, the unity and brotherhood of the human race, the duty of loving one another, and of loving the smallest most of any, the obligation to do to our neighbor as we would have him do by us. . . . . . But they preach at the same time submission, the voluntary acceptance of the
* In 1 Tim. vi. 1, 2, Paul makes a distinction between two classes of servants. First, those still “under the yoke,” that is, having heathen masters, are to be submissive and obedient, from a regard to the honor of God. Secondly, those having “believing masters” are not to despise those masters, because Christianity has taken away their legal prečminence, and reduced them to a common brotherhood with their servants. Does not this argue the virtual emancipation of every slave whose master became a Christian?
The case of Onesimus is in point. He wished to return to his once legal master, whom probably he had defrauded when he ran away. Paul certifies his conversion, assumes his debts, and exhorts Philemon to receive him, “not now as a servant, but above a servant, a brother beloved.” For Philemon to have done otherwise would have been contrary to the gospel. Paul might have retained Onesimus, and would have done so had he not felt that Philemon could be trusted to treat him as a brother. Onesimus, if he ever was a slave, did not return as such.